By Northgate Sugar Maples
The Real McCoy
We are going to start with a couple of questions. Do you know the difference between maple syrup and table syrup? If you answered yes, skip the next paragraph, but if you answered no, let us start with a little education. Table syrup is a combination of fructose and glucose as well as chemicals and stock maple flavoring. You will recognize it as Aunt Jamima. Maple syrup is the natural stuff, that comes from the sap of the maple tree. Now that we have that dealt with, let us move to the second question.
Do you know the difference between pure maple syrup and organic pure maple syrup? This is a little more difficult and part of the reason that we have dedicated a full article to this very question. Both are amazing products, but for those who are looking for organic items, the difference is extremely important.
Typically, organic foods are foods that are grown naturally without the use of chemicals, pesticides, radiation or genetic engineering. These foods can be checked by companies such as Quality Assurance International who certifies organic fruits, vegetables, meat and other items within the Canadian and United States market. Pure means that there is only one ingredient in the bottle, which in our case would mean the bottle only contains pure maple syrup.
The Maple Syrup Difference
There are several key differences between organic and non-organic pure maple syrup. Which includes when the maple trees are tapped, how the tapping of the trees is done, how the sap is collected and how to sap is collected and stored. There is a ton of restrictions on how these processes are to be done by an organic maple farm and these rules and regulations put a strain on the farm during the harvest.
Let us start with the trees. The maple syrup season runs throughout the late winter and early spring, and no matter what type of farm they are running, producers have selected sites that have an abundance of natural maple trees growing. A smaller operator will have between 2000-3000 taps for their site, while the larger more commercialized companies will have over 160,000, depending on the operator. An organic maple farmer will have to plant 15% companion species to accompany maple to continue to operate as an organic farm. They will also have to map their site and include buffers for other crops or Christmas tree plots to avoid contamination from pesticides or other prohibited materials.
Further to this, an organic maple syrup producer is not allowed to trim or cut back undergrowth from the trees. This would mean if a bush or fern have decided to be at the base of the tree, an organic farmer will not be able to remove that item. On top of this, organic maple syrup producers are able to utilize fertilizers to impact growth cycles but are limited to wood ash, lime or the other limited fertilizers that have been allowed by the organic companies. This does limit growth per year, and thus the issues that face organic farmers that are looking to start a new crop of maple trees that need to wait double if not triple the time of his or her competitor who is not growing trees on an organic farm.
The tubing and taps are even a little different for those who are operating as an organic maple syrup producer. Tubing to collect the sap, which is the most common way to do it on today’s maple farms, needs to include protectors as to not damage the maple trees. As well, to tap a tree, the trees must reach a diameter of 20cm at chest height to be tapped once. There is a limit of three taps per tree, but most producers that deal in organic maple syrup are not able to take advantage of that due to the strict guidelines that are in place.
But what about the tap itself? For maple syrup producers, this is one of the hardest parts, as the only disinfectant that is allowed on organic farms is food grade ethyl alcohol. This is to ensure that no chemicals are able to get into the sap that will be later boiled. This also minimized the risk of mineral components entering the tubing and thus ruining an entire batch.
Finally, we move to the last step in the process, production, which for organic maple syrup producers provides more regulations. The sap is boiled like normal, but organic maple syrup farms are only allowed to use stainless steel pans, and certified organic oils as de-foamers. These are both expensive and can be difficult to get for farms in the rural areas of the country. As well, the machines are to be cleaned only by certified chemicals, and at the end f the season a farm may use either a vinegar of fermented sap to complete the clean at the end of the season.
Plus, for those farmers who choose to be organic, they have to keep on top of their paperwork. Production plans, site maps, production records, sales records, complaint logs, product traceability and inventory records need to be kept to strict code as a maple farm may be subject to an annual audit by one of the many certified organic bodies that operate in and around the country.
By now, we hope that you have seen the difference between organic maple syrup and pure maple syrup. The strict regulations and costs that are associated with running an organic maple farm have limited the numbers in the country, but for those farms who are certified organic business is good. It takes a fair amount of effort, but the organic food revival is not something that is going away, and with new markets such as Whole Foods and organic grocery chains opening up across the country, it can be hard to keep up to demand those organic maple farms. No matter if you are a fan of organic maple syrup or just pure maple syrup, the one thing that we can all agree on is both are delicious.